On Being a Connected Entrepreneur
Moving past the focus group to make deeper connections with educators
As we celebrate Connected Educator Month this October, I look back on six years of helping educators to be more connected with edWeb.net.
EdWeb evolved from the “aha” moment when I saw how my daughter and her friends were using Facebook--not just to connect with far-away friends, but to make immediate plans with local friends. We don’t get handed many crystal balls in life, but at that moment I could see how Facebook and social networking would change not just how college students connect, but how we all connect in our social and professional lives.
I’ve spent over 35 years in the education industry and I have always felt handicapped. In so many meetings and discussions about marketing and product development, I always felt at a disadvantage when a colleague would say, “When I was a teacher…” as a preface to his/her opinion about the project at hand. That experience as a teacher always added weight to a colleague’s opinion. I was never a teacher. How could I truly understand the needs of a teacher?
My solution was to push for focus groups. Every time we held a focus group, I learned a point of view, a perspective, a need, an obstacle I had never considered before. But unfortunately, focus groups can be expensive, and you only get to talk with a sampling of the potential audience.
Fast forward to today’s world. With the advent of Web 2.0 tools, all members and stakeholders in the education community can come together into online professional learning communities--to work as colleagues together on the same problems, the same challenges of how to improve teaching and learning. It’s like a 24/7 focus group with educators all over the country, or the world.
If you’re not in the classroom today, how can we understand what teachers need? If you’re drawing on experience in the classroom 5, 10, 15 years ago, how relevant is that to what is happening today? We are not going to create the products and services that will have the greatest impact on education unless we get closer to what is really happening in schools and classrooms.
Online communities make it possible for all stakeholders involved in education to connect personally with librarians, teachers, administrators--who can provide insight, ideas, guidance, and feedback about the programs and services that are needed to improve teaching and learning.
After six years working to build edWeb, I have hundreds of educator colleagues/friends, and have developed many close friendships. If I have a question about something we are doing or considering, I can message, post, tweet, chat, email, phone, text any number of educators at almost any time of day for feedback, and I usually get an answer almost immediately.
Our idea for free online professional learning communities, developed because I partnered with Michelle Luhtala, the head librarian at New Canaan High School. I saw her presentation on using emerging technology at the 2010 CoSN conference. We connected after the conference and built the Emerging Tech for School Libraries community and webinar series on edWeb--side by side--with a community of librarians who were supportive and encouraging every step of the way. The model we created together--as a true partnership of an industry entrepreneur and an educator--has now expanded to over 25 programs on all different issues in education.
EdWeb is a better service for educators because--although I was never a teacher--I’ve become a “connected educator.” I spend a lot of time meeting with education industry colleagues encouraging them to make the participation and formation of online communities a part of the DNA of their organization.
Every day we hear from educators who appreciate the opportunity to connect with their peers and engage in free online personal learning, but most educators don’t have the time or expertise to launch and sustain active online communities. This creates a real opportunity for companies and organizations to step into this role and host online communities on the many issues and topics in education that need to be addressed and the professional development that educators need to adopt new ideas and technology.
Angela Maiers, the author of Classroom Habitudes, presented a recent webinar on edWeb, and I love her observation that “the smartest person in the room is the room.” In today’s world, that room has no limits. Whether you are a teacher, a librarian, a principal, a superintendent, an education industry executive, you need all of the intelligence in the “room” to generate the best ideas and solutions to meet the challenges of improving education and the lives of our students.